no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” When
architect Daniel Burnham gave this advice in his 1909 city plan,
Chicago listened. Making no little plans, the generations of architects
and builders since Burnham have designed and created a city of
superlatives, where "biggest,” "best,” and "first” are the right words
to describe dozens of city attractions.
The best way to orient yourself to Chicago – and to take a heavy
dose of that Chicago magic that stirs men’s blood – is to ascend one of
the city’s tallest buildings for a panoramic view out over
"Chicagoland.” The Sears Tower, elegant and amazing, is the world’s
fourth-tallest building overall (including antennae); but has the
world’s highest occupied floor. From the 103rd-floor Skydeck
Observatory, views sometimes extend 40 miles in every direction.
Chicago’s third-tallest building, the John Hancock Building, has its
own observatory with its own charms. It’s the perfect place for a
non-neck-straining look at the Sears Tower, and the open-air viewing
deck allows you to test the weather at over 1000 feet above street
level. Some visitors head to the 96th-floor Signature Room bar or the
95th-floor restaurant instead of the 94th-floor observatory; that way,
they can purchase a drink or a meal instead of a ticket.
The Sears Tower and the John Hancock Building are just two of many
reasons Chicago deserves its reputation as "the world capital of modern
architecture.” The Federal Complex Center, the IBM Building, and the
Bank One Building are three notables, each reflecting the
"less-is-more,” "integrity-to-materials” ethos of modern architecture
in the International Style. A city tour with the Chicago Architectural
Foundation is the best way to learn about Chicago’s rich architectural
history. Tours travel on foot, or by bus, bicycle, or boat.
so much glass and steel, Chicago’s Art Deco and Gothic Revival
skyscrapers really stand out. Observers have compared the shining white
Wrigley Building, an example of the former, to a wedding cake, a sand
castle, and Sleeping Beauty’s Disney palace. The nearby Tribune Tower
makes an opposite impression. Inspired by Rouen Cathedral, its flying
buttresses and gargoyles leave you expecting a swarm of bats to descend
suddenly from an upper story. Pick up a flyer from the lobby to guide
you through the hundreds of "borrowed” stones embedded in the exterior
walls, from buildings like the Alamo, the Parthenon, the Berlin Wall,
the Kremlin, and Westminster Abbey.
During Chicago’s long and blustery winters, the indoor visual arts
scene may seem much more enticing than either Chicago’s architecture or
its many famous outdoor sculptures. The Art Institute is a world-class
museum, most famous for housing the best collection of Impressionist
and Postimpressionist works outside of France. Don’t limit your tour to
the Impressionist highlights, however. The Art Institute is a complete
art history education, with masterpieces from every culture and period.
The Art Nouveau decorative arts style flourished here in the early
20th century, and stunning examples appear both within the Art
Institute and scattered across the city. At the old Marshall Field’s
store on State Street (now a Macy’s), the largest Tiffany mosaic
anywhere covers the 6000-square-foot north atrium ceiling in iridescent
glass. The 38-foot Tiffany dome in the Chicago Cultural Center is also
the largest of its kind. Visitors can wander through the entire
Cultural Center, and take in its rich, marble- and mosaic-clad
interiors. The Chicago Office of Tourism is also inside. This building
and the old Marshall Field’s are both in the northeastern part of the
Loop; the Art Institute is across South Michigan Avenue from the Loop,
in Grant Park.
South of the Art Institute, Chicago’s other large museums also have
a few superlatives to call their own. The world’s largest collection of
aquatic creatures swims, wriggles and scuttles its way along in the
Shedd Aquarium. These animals live in re-created habitats as distinct
and surprising as a 90,000-gallon Caribbean coral reef and a
four-million-gallon Pacific Northwest aquarium.
exploring Earth’s waters, explore its skies at the nearby Adler
Planetarium, the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. Also
nearby, the Field Museum Of Natural History’s 20 million artifacts
reflect Victorian America’s collecting fervor, with exhibits expertly
updated for more recent generations. The belle of the Field Museum’s
ball is Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever discovered.
While the museums above welcome their share of Chicago’s 32 million
annual visitors, the Museum of Science and Industry is actually the
city’s most popular attraction. The Coal Mine exhibit takes visitors on
an underground ride through a replica coal mine. There is at least one
smaller-than-life exhibit in this larger-than-life city: movie star
Colleen Moore’s Fairy Tale Castle. The miniature castle took 19 years
to complete, and contains over 1000 tiny treasures. Another popular
exhibit allows visitors to tour a U-505 German submarine. In 1944, this
U-boat sank eight Allied ships off the coast of West Africa, before
becoming the first enemy vessel captured at sea since 1815.
On the Museum Campus (where Shedd, Adler, and Field are located) and
at the Museum of Science And Industry, interactive exhibits and
delighted children can together make quite a bit of noise. The Harold
Washington Library is an oasis of calm and quiet in the midst of the
city, and a book-lover’s paradise, with more than two million volumes.
The noble, neoclassically designed library is also the largest public
library building in the world. The top-floor Winter Garden offers a
refuge of both quiet and warmth. Read a book at one of the cafe tables,
and enjoy the foliage, and the sunlight through the glass ceiling.
library’s eighth floor houses the Jazz, Blues, and Gospel Hall of Fame.
Here you will find the nation’s largest blues archive, along with lots
of intriguing background on the development of America’s distinctive
musical styles. Chicago, like New Orleans, St. Louis, and Memphis, has
played an important role in the history of the blues. Dozens of blues
clubs still jam across the city, and many people consider the Chicago
Blues Festival (late May/early June) to be the best in the world.
Chicago also annually hosts a Gospel Music Festival (June), a Country
Music Festival (June), a Jazz Festival (August), and a World Music
Festival (September). The blues event, however, is the largest and most
popular. For current live music listings in all genres, pick up a copy
of the Chicago Reader, or check it out online.
Chicago also deserves its reputation as a world-class city for
classical music. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays at the 2600-seat
Orchestra Hall on South Michigan Avenue. "Rush” seating sometimes
allows the money-wise to grab an unreserved seat, at a much-reduced
price, right before the show. Other venues around town, like the
Chicago Cultural Center, Fourth Presbyterian Church, and Holy Name
Cathedral, host smaller, free concerts throughout the year. The Chicago
Chamber Musicians give free performances in the Cultural Center, at
lunchtime on the first Monday of each month.
Along with its reputation as a great city for architecture, art, and
music, Chicago is known for at least one negative superlative, largely
undeserved. Chicagoans report that people from other countries, when
they hear Chicago mentioned, often mime machine-gun action and bring up
Al Capone. After all these years, "Scarface” is still Chicago’s most
famous resident! Movies (like The Untouchables), books, and even comics
(like Dick Tracy) have immortalized Chicago’s history of organized
crime. Writers from Raymond Chandler to Sara Paretsky and Scott Turow
have also gone beyond Capone in their imaginations of Chicago’s
criminal underbelly. While parts of the city (especially some portions
of the South Side, and the West Side west of the Gold Coast) are
dangerous, don’t let the fictional portrayals of crime and corruption
unduly influence your itinerary. Chicago is only about the 52nd most
dangerous city in the U.S. Just use caution, and stick to well-traveled
and well-lit areas.
the reputation is worse than the reality, perhaps the city ‘s bad name
for crime has helped to keep Chicagoans unpretentious, and
down-to-earth even as their builders have propelled day-to-day life
into the skies. Or maybe it’s their dogged, loyal love for the best
baseball team that never wins. 2008 will mark the 100-year anniversary
of the Cubs’ last World Series win. And who knows? Maybe 2008 will be
the year. Either way, don’t miss the chance to take in a game at the
ivy-covered, tradition-honored Wrigley Field. The cheapest tickets cost
only $6. The White Sox are less popular but more successful, having won
the World Series as recently as 2005 (and before that, in 1917!). The
Bears and the Bulls also draw huge crowds in their respective seasons,
and give visitors a chance to join in on local excitement.
Scott Turow used the Cubs as a prime example when he declared
Chicago "The Capital of Real Life.” "People tell me that they like
Chicago, extolling it as ‘a real place, a real city.’ And that it
is...no glamour, no jive...New York City is the city of winners;
Chicago’s where there are losers too. L.A. is the home of stars. Just
Plain Folks live in Chicago.” That’s how Chicago has earned another
superlative: "Friendliest big city in America.” Big business and big
politics haven’t overshadowed the presence of millions of ordinary,
"just plain” people.
writers have instead described Chicago as a giant memorial to human
striving and achievement: demonstrating what human culture can create
given a vast flat landscape plus nothing. Chicago is a great humanist
monument. However, the city started with much more than a swath of
northern Illinois prairie land. Louis Jolliet said to Father Jacques
Marquette in 1673, "Here someday will be found one of the world’s great
cities.” But when he said it, the two were looking out not just over a
field of wild onions, but also over Lake Michigan. The lake reflects
Chicago’s skyscrapers for only the space of a few ripples, and then
stretches vast and blue for miles to meet the far horizon. The lake
constantly reminds Chicago of the beauty of the earth: the inheritance
on which humankind builds its own achievements.
Of the many big plans Daniel Burnham recommended to Chicago in 1909,
perhaps the most important was to preserve the lakefront as public
ground and as the city’s "one great unobstructed view.” As Lois Wille
wrote, "they made a promise that this city, hustler from its infancy,
would do what no other city had done...it would give its most priceless
land to its people.” With their rose gardens, fountains, wildflowers
and sandy beaches, the parks at the water’s edge make Chicago’s
lakefront exquisite, and utterly unique. The Chicago skyline to the
west, Lake Michigan to the east, and open and gardened acres for
everyone in between: now that’s superlative.
Photos: Courtesy of Peter J. Schulz for
"Skyliine at Dawn” and "Sears Tower”, Hedrick Blessing for "Chicago
Cultural Center Interior”, Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau for
"Thank Goodness It’s a Fossil!”, and "Wrigley Building and Tribune
Tower”, Graphics and Reproduction for "Jazz Musicians”, Mark Montgomery
for "Grant Park in Spring”, and Chris McGuire for "Oak Street Beach”.
Curry lives in St. Louis, the city that fought Chicago for the railroad
in the 19th century and lost. She loves Chicago and visits as often as